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Kobayashi hopes to open NASCAR doors for Japanese drivers

Kamui Kobayashi says he hopes he can pave the way for more Japanese drivers to race in NASCAR following his Cup Series debut on the Indianapolis road course.

Kamui Kobayashi, 23XI Racing, Toyota Genuine Parts Toyota Camry

Ex-Formula 1 racer Kobayashi added his name to the growing list of international racers to try their hand at NASCAR in recent times when he joined Toyota squad 23XI Racing for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard in August, finishing in 33rd place.

In doing so, the current Toyota World Endurance Championship and Super Formula racer became the first Japanese driver to contest a Cup race since Hideo Fukuyama in 2003.

Kobayashi said upon the announcement of his Indianapolis outing back in June that racing in NASCAR had been something he had dreamed of as a child, despite the category’s relative lack of exposure in his native Japan compared to other international series.

Now he hopes to demonstrate to his fellow countrymen that NASCAR can be a plausible route for their careers, having invited his younger Super Formula rivals Toshiki Oyu and Kazuto Kotaka along to Indy to witness American racing first-hand.

“I think I was able to show [Japanese drivers] that NASCAR isn’t impossible, and make them think that, if I prepare properly and gain experience, why can’t I do it?” said Kobayashi. “It’s a dream world, and if a Japanese driver could win here, that would be awesome. 

“I want people in Japan to know about this amazing world that is NASCAR. The sound of the V8 engine is incredible, and I want people to think, ‘this is what motorsport should be like’. 

“It’s true that some people might think that it’s not fair because they don’t give penalties for contact, but I think it’s better to put that aside, because the fast guys still win.”

Kamui Kobayashi, 23XI Racing, Toyota Genuine Parts Toyota Camry

Kamui Kobayashi, 23XI Racing, Toyota Genuine Parts Toyota Camry

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Despite a tough baptism of fire at Indianapolis, Kobayashi says he is eager to take on an expanded programme of NASCAR events in 2024, and has already begun discussions with 23XI about finding the sponsorship needed to make this a reality.

It comes amid suggestions that he could step away from Super Formula in 2024 amid another disappointing season in the Japanese single-seater series, which would potentially leave only the eight-race WEC calendar to work around.

“If there’s a chance I would like to do more races,” said Kobayashi. “This time, I brought the budget to the team, but now I’ve been able to race once, I’ve started talking to the team about searching for sponsors together and creating more chances. 

“For me, a full-time programme is impossible, but I’m looking at the timing [of the schedules], and working out how I can do [more races next year].”

Asked by Motorsport.com if he would be interested in trying his hand at an oval race, Kobayashi replied: “I think for that you need more experience. So I think I would have to do a lower category to get a feel for it. I want to do it, but it needs more preparation.”

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